The Friday Five: Something is better than nothing.

I've always struggled with mornings.

Just ask my father; he's the one who would knock on my door (per my request) at 6:00 a.m. to wake me up and tell me that I still had an hour left to sleep. Yes, he woke me up to tell me that I could go back to sleep. The human version of a snooze button, I guess? (Thanks, Dad!) I loved the coziness of snuggling back, deep into the covers, for what seemed like it would be an eternity... but, of course, only felt like two minutes.

In college, the dining hall breakfast lured me to get up early enough before class, although spring of junior year (after studying abroad and learning to eat dry cereal in my room) saw me frequently booking it up the hill to American Lit stuffing half a granola bar in my mouth (sorry, Annie).

In the nearly seven years since then, I've wrestled with how to be a morning person, or at least more of one. For me, it became an identity thing, a "supposed to" thing, a somehow-I-got-this-message-from-society thing. I'm a writer! Writers are supposed to get up by five a.m. and write for two hours before the real world awakes! I'm a Christian! Christians are supposed to get up at six and do half an hour of centering prayer and then be ready to face the day!

I'm Claire! If I get to work at 9:06 it's an impressive day!


I took writing workshops. I took a mindfulness course. I was in a spiritual formation group. All important, all worthwhile. But I slowly began to face my authentic self, especially after my MFA advisor told me, "Well, obviously not all writers write at five in the morning, because you don't. So stop thinking that you should, and find what works for you." (Thanks, Nicky!)

It took a season of stress last fall to finally spur me forward, in an authentic way. My mind would go on loops, fear growing every time I circled back. The present moment seemed like a deterrent to my fear loop, rather than something I was supposed to enjoy and live into.

And then, in women's group, someone mentioned the meditation app Headspace. (Thanks, Brenna!) It had ten day sets of meditations, and you could go for as short as 10 minutes or as long as 20. I started with the first "pack" of meditations, for ten minutes right after I woke up in the mornings, and I haven't stopped since. It wasn't half an hour of focused, centering prayer. But it was something. And it started to interrupt my fear loop.

Other authentic elements of morning routine began to fall into place after that. I took home my enjoyment of our workplace workouts with Jessica Smith TV, and began to do one of her stretching routines on the days we would work out at the office, and a quick workout itself on our days off. ("Breathe, Stretch and Relax" and "Wake Up and Walk" are two of my favorites.)

I'm not sure what sparked my return to journaling, except for the dragging feeling that I have when I'm not doing some sort of personal writing every day. I'm not myself when I don't do it, and there's no use pretending. For awhile I played with the timer, saying that I would write for five minutes, or seven. These days, I write a page as soon as I finish my Headspace meditation. I try to do it without thinking what I'll write next, and as soon as I shut the journal, I'm done thinking about it. But the practice has still done its work: I've been able to express thoughts and feelings about my life that would otherwise remain stuck in my head. I often find that this writing practice gets me moving on goals or ideas I didn't even know I had.

I've done this for awhile, ever since we moved into our house that has a dining room, but I relish the routine of sitting down at our dining room table to eat breakfast. I have NPR on, I have my English breakfast tea and my peanut butter toast and my fruit (oh, peaches! you are not allowed to go out of season, my dears), and it is a glorious 15-20 minutes.

Finally, this fifth element of routine isn't morning-related, and it's newer, but it may be one of the most important: I'm taking Saturdays off from social media. At the breakfast table is usually when I first open Instagram and Facebook, and I find that if I simply don't open my phone during breakfast, it's a lot easier to keep it dark for the rest of the day. My job entails a lot of social media management during the week, so this day off is a great way to refresh and concentrate on what or who is in front of me-- and I like to think that it impacts how I think about social media all week long, even if I'm on it. This is not the end all be all. This is not the most important thing.

A couple of caveats: I know this is so much easier to do without children in the picture, and I know that no routine is forever. But I feel truly uplifted by these practices that have risen up organically for me over the last year, and I hope that I'm able to have some version of each in all phases of life.

I'm a writer who writes one page. I'm a Christian who attempts silence for ten minutes. I do a quick power walk and sit down for a piece of toast and tea before I'm off and running. It's something. It's who I am, right now. And it makes the days so much brighter. 

What about you? What are the practices, daily or not, that make your days better?

A girl gets up at three A.M....

It was three in the morning last Friday when I got up to go to the bathroom - but didn't get much farther than, "Ow! Ow ow ow ow ow..."

Somehow, I had moved in such a way that sent a sharp pain splitting down the right side of my neck. And it wouldn't quit. "Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch..." I hobbled to the bathroom - yes, it felt like hobbling, even though my legs were fine. My ability to move at all suddenly felt incredibly limited.

"You tweaked your neck," Sean said in his matter-of-fact manner as I stiffened my whole body to lie gingerly back in the bed. "I've done that before. You'll be fine."

"I will?"


"But when?"

"A few days."

"A few DAYS?"

"You'll be fine."

(Marry a calm person, y'all. It's a gift.)

As he drifted back to sleep, I lay awake, experimenting to see which angles of movement hurt (lots) and how far I could turn or nod my head (not much). How had this happened so quickly, by doing something so normal? This pain was going to change my whole day, I just knew it. Good thing we were off work anyway. I'd need to call in to see the chiropractor, and I wouldn't be able to drive myself over because checking my right blind spot was suddenly not a thing I could do. My self-exasperation rose. If I had waited a few minutes to get up, or gotten up earlier in the night, would I have gotten up in a different way, preventing the tweak? Couldn't I rewind just thirty minutes and be a bit more intentional about my movement? But of course, how would I have known to be?

As I made breakfast and very carefully puttered around the kitchen, I grew increasingly aware of how restricted my mobility had become. I had to turn my whole body to the right, rather than simply twisting in that direction. Any sudden movement - even one that didn't seem like it would involve my neck - spurred a deep twinge. "Ouch!" I could feel myself start to tighten up in other places, sending messages to other body parts: Don't swing your arms too much! Don't reach up too high! Don't bend down too low! 

I was shocked by the pain from my body, thankfully something I haven't had to deal with much. But I realize that my brain actually has a history of doing this. It's called anxiety. 

I've never been officially diagnosed with anxiety, and I know that many others experience it even more deeply than I do. But I know it's there. Out of nowhere, something shifts (tweak!) - a breaking news headline, the phone goes straight to voicemail, a door creaks, the siren speeds down the road behind our house... And I go tense. Maybe my body moves normally, but my brain is suddenly stiff and my gut fills with rocks, because all I can concentrate on is what's wrong something's wrong what if that something wrong is about to come slamming into my life... Nothing else will do. Nothing else to do. I have to concentrate on the potentially terrible, because if I don't... well, I don't know what, but it can't be good...

At least that's what I thought for a long time. Or maybe I didn't really think - I just did, I just felt, I just rolled with the unending cycle of what ifs that would suddenly pummel my mind. I stiffened at even the thought of pain or change. And sometimes I still do. But I've learned that there are ways to slowly climb out of the cycle. Which brings us back to that head-twistingly painful last Friday...

Ask for help. At 6:35 a.m. I left a sleepy, desperate voicemail at my chiropractor Pat's office. "I know I haven't been to see you in over a year, but..." In terms of my body vs. my mind, help with physical pain can sometimes be easier to ask for than help with mental struggles, but even if that help is a call to my mom, or a text to a friend, or talking to Sean, then that's a start.

"Don't move so rigidly," Pat told me as I sat in her office a few hours later. "Stiff movement to prevent pain is only tightening everything else. Move normally." If that isn't a message to my busy brain, I don't know what is.

Find externals to support the internal. Pulled neck muscle? Ice and Advil, stat. Anxiety mode? Meditation. Movie. Journaling. Texting to ask for a prayer. Going for a walk. I haven't needed medication at this point, but everyone's different, and I know it helps a lot of people.

Stretch into the discomfort. This one is tough for me sometimes. I took the list of neck exercises that Pat gave me on the way out of her office - the same sheet of paper she's been giving me for nearly twenty years of tight neck muscles. I've never gotten into a rhythm of doing them. Why? They're not hard and they probably take fifteen minutes, tops. Maybe I'm stubborn - and/or maybe I've been in a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. My neck is always going to be tense. I'm always going to be anxious. Not necessarily true - if I use the tools I've been given. So far, I've done the neck exercises twice this week.

Locate the source of the tension - that seems important in body and soul matters, too. I found the muscle causing the majority of the tension and tried to loosen it best I could - and it started to help. There was some sense of comfort in just knowing which muscle it was. I just started a new Headspace "pack" (what they call 30-day meditation sessions on different subjects) on anxiety, where they talk about "noting" - paying attention to whether anxiety is caused by thinking or feeling. Simply noting which one, not dwelling on it. 

Patience. My favorite! (Or not.) Patience with my body, patience with my mind. "It'll go away," Sean keeps saying, and he's right. It's already mostly gone. But there's still a remnant of pain - just like there's often a remnant of anxiety hovering near me. I'm pretty much used to it. And with these lessons and tools, and people to support me, I'm learning that what comes on so suddenly, be it a muscle tweak or a moment of unfounded fear, should be noted but not dwelt upon. Not a day ruin-er. I'm slowly learning to loosen up and to pull gratitude even closer, so that it blocks anxiety's view, and reminds me that I'm lucky to have the ability to move and stretch at all.